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SAT: What Test Optional Means for College Admissions

Since COVID, the college admissions landscape has become far more opaque - leaving both parents and students with a lack of clarity as to how to build a competitive application.

Compounding this is the advent of test-optional applications. Currently, more than 80% of US colleges and universities do not require applicants to take any form of standardized test. Only a handful - including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the top of the rankings - still require them.

The move to test optional has led to changes in the admissions process. Perhaps most significantly - there has been a 32% spike in applications to the top universities in the country, intensifying competition among students. For most - it’s unclear whether or not to submit test scores at all and those who do tend to have higher scores than in the past. Overall, the benchmark for performance has risen considerably. In 2022 for example, 75% of NYU rising freshmen who submitted scores received a 720 or higher on the math portion of the SAT, while 25% scored an 800.

What does this mean?

Overall, colleges are focusing more on academic course load, with particular emphasis placed on high school math classes and on the rigor and breadth of APs. As for standardized tests - the stakes have risen considerably for SAT/ACT scores. While they don’t play as much of a role as they used to, universities may still use them as a “check” against a student’s GPA. In other words, if a student’s SAT score is relatively stronger than their GPA, it may benefit the student to submit their score. Otherwise, it would be advisable to only submit scores that are within the top 25% for that particular university.

As with anything else - most students would benefit from SAT practice. There are multiple avenues of doing this, but parents of 7th and 8th graders may consider encouraging their students to participate in the Johns Hopkins CTY as a means of experiencing the real test in a no-risk environment. 

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